Have you ever come across a website and immediately felt like leaving because you had such a horrible experience? I have, one too many times. Visitors expect websites to provide a great experience, including fast loading times and easy navigation. Failure to meet these expectations will lead to high bounce rates, loss of traffic, and, at times, loss of money.
As web developers, it is important to build websites and web applications with a great user experience in mind because users don’t know or care if we built our site with Next.js, Astro, Node.js, or Flutter. What’s important to them is if the application solves their problem and has a great user experience.
In this article, we will look at what user experience is, explore some of its terminologies and principles, examine some user experience tips, and learn how to test it on our websites.
What is user experience (UX)?
User Experience, commonly called UX, deals with the quality of a user’s interaction with a product, application, system, or service. Aspects of a user’s journey, like navigating between pages, filling online forms, the hierarchy of information on websites, etc., define a user’s experience.
While the user interface (UI) is an integral part of a user experience, it is important not to view UX as strictly relating to a website or web application. A more holistic view sees how UX extends beyond the web experience and encompasses all aspects of a user’s interaction with a company, its services, and its products.
An effective UX journey is one that helps users easily access the value of a product or website, and an in-depth understanding of their needs, values, abilities, and limitations is critical in crafting a delightful experience.
Benefits of providing a great user experience
Developing a great user experience that a wide array of users with varying needs, desires, and expectations will enjoy is a huge investment to undertake. However, there are benefits to doing this, and such an investment is not without its returns. Here are some benefits we can gain by providing a great user experience.
Having a great blog with the right keywords stuffed into our articles is great for SEO. However, it is not the only factor that affects how our websites rank on Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). There are also technical aspects of SEO that come into play. Google monitors the Core Web Vitals of our websites and uses that as a measure to determine where we rank in search results. Websites with high Lighthouse scores will rank higher than those with low scores. Our websites stand a better chance of ranking higher by optimizing them for the best user experience.
Greater customer retention and loyalty
The better an experience we create for our users, the more satisfied they will be. Providing them with a seamless and intuitive experience and making a great first impression is the best way to boost customer retention. Failure to meet customers' expectations and provide a great experience could result in high customer churn rates, bad PR, and negative reviews.
On the other hand, if done right, we can gain loyal customers who will leave great reviews and testimonials and even become organic brand advocates and marketers.
An increase in customer retention and loyalty will ultimately lead to a rise in sales, revenue, and profit because customers spend more when they are pleased with the services they receive. Delivering quality service packaged in a great user experience is a sure way to gain more conversions and generate more sales.
Reduced burden on customer service personnel
The UX improvements we make don't just cause an increase in revenue or boost customer retention. They also help reduce the strain on customer service personnel, as they have fewer customer issues and queries to address. The more intuitive a website is, the easier it will be for users to understand and the fewer questions they will have.
Core UX principles and terminologies developers should know
Here are a few principles and terminologies we should know to help familiarize ourselves with the UX space. These terminologies are also helpful to keep in mind as we take a user-centric approach to web development instead of focusing only on technical considerations.
Hierarchy is the principle of arranging elements from most important to least important. It involves creating a visual, tree-like structure for the elements and information on a webpage and deals with how content and information are organized. Doing so ensures users focus their attention where we want them to. For example, on a blog page, the title will be bolder and larger than the body text because it is the first thing we want the reader to see when they open the blog.
A clear visual hierarchy helps guide a viewer’s eyes to the most important elements on a website. We can combine variations in color, contrasts, font weights, scale, spacing, and grouping elements to create a proper visual hierarchy that users can easily understand.
Consistency has two meanings; the first refers to every page of our website having the same design and functionality, and the second deals with our website being similar to the behavior of other websites users are familiar with.
Users have a pre-existing idea of how the web should function, and we must accommodate these expectations when creating websites. For example, when a user clicks on a hamburger icon on the top left or top right corner of the screen, they expect a navigation menu to appear, and we must ensure that it does. We can provide a richer browsing experience by staying consistent with the established behaviors and functionalities users expect.
User-centricity involves considering who the target users are and how they will interact with our websites. This is a critical part of building websites because it increases our chances of meeting customers’ expectations and presenting them with a user-friendly experience. Focusing on users through the planning, designing, and development of a product is a crucial part of crafting a stellar web experience.
Accessibility deals with creating products that anyone can use, making it easy for anyone to use and access, including users with disabilities. The importance of creating an accessible web cannot be overemphasized, particularly as 1 in 6 people worldwide experience a significant disability. An accessibility-first approach should be seen as a necessity rather than an option in this day and age.
User control involves giving users the right level of control over how they interact with web products. Examples of great user controls that products can have are filters for search functionality, buttons that scroll to the top of a page, and undo buttons. We can also improve control by giving users more advanced ways to improve their performance and efficiency. Examples of these are keyboard shortcuts.
Usability is the degree to which users can easily use our products to carry out a specific action or achieve a set goal. It won’t matter how visually pleasing or full of great features an application is if users can’t figure out how it works. The purpose of every product we build is to solve our customers’ problems, so the better the usability, the better the user experience.
Six high impact UX tips for developers to implement
Here are some actionable tips we can implement to create a richer user experience.
Reduce website load times
Slow websites make for a poor user experience at best. At worst, the users won't even stick around long enough to experience the website. Studies show that a 2-second delay in load time resulted in abandonment rates of up to 87%, which is not good for business. A survey by Digital.com showed that 52% of online shoppers would leave a website if they had to wait more than six seconds for a page to load. We can see from these stats that it is in our best interest to keep our websites fast.
While we can leverage loading animations to buy some time as the website loads, it is ultimately better for the site to be highly performant. Also, faster websites rank higher in Google, which is great for SEO.
Validate forms as users type
Imagine filling out a long form with multiple fields, and upon submitting, you get a response that there were errors in one or multiple input fields. Then the form clears, and you have to start filling it correctly from scratch again.
This makes for an unpleasant user experience. It is better to set up form validation logic that activates as the user types instead of when they submit. This way, they get notified of any errors and can correct them before they move on to another input. This means there is less work for the user, which makes for a better experience.
Provide clear error messages
Errors are bound to occur when users interact with our websites and perform specific actions like submitting forms, deleting data, buying items online, etc. Providing clear and informative error messages that are easy to understand is critical in improving users' experiences. For example, instead of saying, “An error occurred,” we can add more context and information to let the users know the type of error that occurred and where. Clear error messages should inform the user of what went wrong and how they can resolve the issue.
Provide clear navigation
A website's navigation should be straightforward and intuitive for users and make it easy to go forward and backward. At every point in time, users should know what part of our website they currently are in, how to go back to where they were, and how to move to a new page. It is important to have easily navigatable websites, particularly for large websites with hundreds and thousands of pages.
Add personalization for a richer experience
There are direct business benefits to gain from adding different levels of personalization to our websites, and it helps build loyalty, trust, and empathy between our users and us.
Not only is personalization beneficial to businesses, but it is also what users expect. A McKinsey report showed that 71% of customers want businesses to provide personalized experiences, and 76% are frustrated when a personalized experience is unavailable.
A great example of personalization in the wild is Netflix's usage of the phrases, “Top picks for [name-of-user],” “Because you liked [title-of-video],” and “Because you watched [title-of-video].”
Micro-interactions are a great way to add subtle but eye-catching transitions, animations, and interactivity to websites. We can provide a better user experience by adding micro-interactions that activate in response to a user's actions. Some common examples are background changes when hovering over a button, border highlighting when focusing on an input field, page transitions, or a progress indicator bar when scrolling through a website.
How can devs test user experiences on websites?
Testing our websites’ user experiences helps to inform us about how users engage with our website and how easy it is to perform tasks. Here are some methods we can deploy to carry out user experience tests.
Carrying out beta testing
Beta tests are a great way to get user feedback in a closed group and make necessary corrections before releasing a product to the general population. They enable us to see how our product is performing out in the wild, yet in a closed and controlled group of users before it is released to the general public.
Using accessibility software
Just because we, the builders of a website, can navigate through it easily with a mouse and can see all the elements on a page with our eyes doesn't mean it is truly accessible. There is a more accurate way to test how accessible a website is, and that is using accessibility software. Speech recognition, screen reader, and screen magnification software help stop some accessibility gaps and issues that may exist, allowing us to make improvements before launching to our customer base.
Measuring page load speeds
Gathering in-house feedback
An effective and non-expensive easy way to test the UX of a website is to gain feedback from team members. It is best to ask team members from other non-technical departments for feedback, or at least those who were not directly involved in the development of the product, like the finance team or human resources. Their feedback will help give a better and more accurate picture of what the average user will experience.
More resources to create great user experiences
A website is great not just because of the tech stack it's built with or its awesome features but also because of how easy and intuitive it is for users. Beyond functionality, providing a stellar user experience must also become a core focus of what we create as developers.
In this article, we learned about what UX is, explored some of its terminologies and principles, examined some UX tips, and learned how to test the user experience of websites. Here are some valuable resources for learning more about how to craft great user experiences: